Consider this recipe for a modern Austenesque mystery: Take a familiar and beloved novel, Mansfield Park, with characters whose motives and actions we know intimately, and tear the book up. Throw the pages inside a bag, shake vigorously, and let the characters and plot fall where they may. Add a writer who has cooked up a complex plot for a delicious murder (or two or more, who knows?), and you have Murder at Mansfield Park, a truly hearty and satisfying new mystery novel.
Lynn Shepherd, the chef of this roman à clef, has by dint of her imagination turned Jane Austen’s classic novel topsy turvy. The characters’ names are familiar, the setting is the same, some of the action as originally described by Jane Austen has been retained, and yet Ms. Shepherd has managed to create something new, refreshing and different.
I must admit to disliking mysteries in general, as many regular readers of my blog know. And I tend not to review Jane Austen sequels. But this novel is different. Oh, I was skeptical at first, slogging through the first chapter, trying to wrap my mind around the changes in the characters. And then I got caught up in the plot and became absorbed to the point where I could not put the book down.
Some red herrings are thrown into the mix, but not so many as to make the reader angry. The plot’s denouement was more than satisfactory and made logical sense. I suppose a true mystery fan might have guessed the killer sooner. Truth be told I held off guessing, for I wanted to be surprised, and so I was.
That Murder at Mansfield Park is Lynn Shepherd’s first novel is most surprising. Her writing style is lovely and effortless as she weaves several plot elements into a seamless whole. Rather than copy Jane Austen, Ms. Shepherd uses Mansfield Park as a take-off point. This novel is intelligently written and assumes that the reader has some command of the English language and enough background knowledge in history, Jane Austen, and other subtle historical and social references to understand the numerous references that crop up.
I give Murder at Mansfield Park six regency fans, my highest rating ever.
Post script: Gentle reader – If you are curious to learn more about Lynn’s novel after reading my review, be forewarned. Many reviewers have spoiled the plot by giving away too much of Lynn’s changes while gushing about them. Honestly, does no one take Review a Novel 101 any more? One irresponsible reviewer of a major online news publication even gave away who was murdered, ignoring the fact that half the fun of this mystery is guessing who the victim will be. So be careful, wary reader, of careless reviewers who do not even bother to place *Spoiler Alert* at the top of their reviews.
- Click here to read Lynn’s article for this blog: Regency Crime Scene Investigation
- View her YouTube video about her novel below: